By Sabina Chan
The Tempest Written By William Shakespeare:
How does the opening scene capture the audience, introduce themes and characters and sustain interest bearing in mind the construction of Shakespeare’s theatre?
This play is unlike any other Shakespeare play. It contains magic and supernatural things. In Shakespeare’s time, people believed in magic because they had poor education and could not explain natural events. In ‘The Tempest’ the main themes and characters are introduced in the opening scene. The tempest is the symbol of change. In the Tempest, order has been upset by the overthrow of Prospero. The storm brings the people responsible to the island so that order can be restored. ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard’. So already Shakespeare is getting the audiences attention by starting off the play with a ship in the middle of a storm. The play begins on a ship, with a shipmaster, a boatswain and mariners trying to keep the ship from getting wrecked and killing passengers. Then Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo enter and get rude to the boatswain. The Boatswain orders action to save the ship but disaster strikes. Miranda and her father Prospero are left on the island. Prospero begins to tell her his history, and how they became upon the island. During the storm, Boatswain talks to noble men with a polite manner, but after when he lose his temper, he curses and is blasphemous.
‘A plague upon this howling! Have you a mind to sink?’ His authority on the ship overrides the traditional hierarchy where the king is in charge. Alonso gives the audience the impression that he is worried, but is also kind and caring.
‘Good Boatswain, have care.’ Alonso is the king of Naples.
Antonio and Sebastian however are rude and shall always put their safety before the kings.
‘Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent noise maker!’ This shows inconsideration and rudeness. Gonzalo is happy and humorous. He is the peacemaker. He is also loyal to the king.
‘The king and prince at prayers, lets assist them, for our case is theirs.’
Finally in the ending scene Prospero has the success of control. Ariel reports the troubled state of the King and expresses compassion for Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, and they wait for Prospero’s judgement. He is moved by Ariel’s feelings, so he says that he will be sympathetic towards them. He dose not want revenge, and declares he will give up magic. The play ends with Prospero asking the audience for applause, and for forgiveness to set him free.
To make this play sustain and catch attention to the audience Shakespeare must know the theatre is used for entertainment, and the audience’s expectations. To perform the first scene on stage with the first stage direction ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning’ He will have to do this by getting cardboard and shaking it to make it rubble, he will have to do this several times. To make the lightning he could have to get lots of candles and mirrors, this will reflect the light, making it flicker in different directions. When the boat is caught in the storm the actor’s movement change, they are tense, panicky but still trying to keep calm, but you can see that looking at their facial expressions that they are scared.
This play would appeal to a Shakespearian audience not a modern audience, as the people in the Shakespearian times did not have the technology to have special effects to make the play look and feel more exciting. For example plays had to take place during the day, using natural light from the sun, as there could be no dramatic lighting and there was very little scenery or props. The audience relied on the actor’s lines and stage directions to supply the time of day and year, and the weather, location, and mood of the scenes. So this play does not successfully appeal to a modern audience, as this would be too boring for them to watch.
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Shakespeare uses many themes in this play some of them are magic, imprisonment, survival, isolation, love and evil. In my opinion, magic is the most effective because the audience can use their imagination more effectively; also this grabs more attention to the play. The themes that are used are usurpation (The overthrow of a rightful ruler) the play contains rebellions, political treachery, mutinies and conspiracies. All kinds of challenges to authority are made:
- The Boatswain orders the king and courtiers off the deck
- Antonio seizes the dukedom of Milan from his brother Prospero
- Caliban tries to rape Miranda
- Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo
- Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo plot to kill Prospero.
Another one is imprisonment and freedom; all the characters in the play suffer some kind of imprisonment:
- Prospero and Miranda are banished to the island
- Caliban in enslaved first by Prospero, the by Stephano
- Ariel, imprisoned by Sycorax, and has to serve Prospero, and is threatened with harsh punishment
- Ferdinand is forced to carry logs as Prospero’s prisoner
- Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio are driven into madness
- Stephano, Trinculo and Claiban are tormented by Prospero’s spirits.
Everyone longs for freedom, but in different ways. Caliban’s idea of liberty is to exchange one master for another. Gonzalo dreams of a Utopian republic in which people are free of every possible constraint. Prospero’s final action is to set free Ariel, and his last words in the play ask the audience to ‘set me free’. Following on from the last type of imprisonment, Ferdinand was imprisoned in his own body by Prospero because he drew his sword against Prospero. This shows Prospero’s powers and how strong they are. Prospero controls all of the men on the island one way or the other. He uses Ariel to lead Ferdinand to Miranda; he uses Ariel as a Harpy to scare Gonzalo, Alonzo, Sebastian and Antonio.
Also forgiveness and reconciliation, throughout the play, prospero is not sure what to do with his enemies. The appearance of Iris in the masque may be a symbol that Prospero intends mercy. Iris is a goddess of the rainbow, and the rainbow is a sign that a storm has ended and a new start can be made. This play ends in forgiveness and reconciliation after great suffering. Prospero gave in, and decides that forgiveness is the better guide to human conduct, ‘The rarer action is in virtue, than in vengeance’, (Act 5 Scene I, lines 27-8). Revenge gives way to forgiveness and pardon.
Magic was used a lot. Things are not what they seem in ‘The Tempest’. The play begins with an illusion the shipwreck is an act of Prospero’s magic. Most of the characters in this play can not believe what they see. The supernatural powers which prospero draws upon the legacy of Sycorax make this island a confusing place. Ariel’s song expresses the mysterious transformations which take place, as everything undergoes ‘a sea-change, into something rich and strange’. In Shakespeare’s England, the line between magic and science was not clearly drawn. Many people believed in witches, or magicians like Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers.
Change and transformation, the turbulence of the storm which happens in the beginning changes into the clear peace and harmony of the ending. The masque suggests the changing seasons of nature: springtime and harvest. Similarly, many of the characters experience a sea-change, Alonso’s despair turns to joy, Prospero’s wish for vengeance changes into forgiveness, and Caliban’s evil intentions become a desire for grace.
Also nature versus nurture (Natural growth versus education and civilisation) was used. Two major views of nature are explored in the play. The first is that nature. Gonzalo’s ‘commonwealth’ speech (Act 2 Scene I, lines 142-58) expresses this view, a belief in the natural goodness of a natural society which grows to harmony and happiness, without social engineering of ant type. The second view is that nature is naturally bad, and therefore cannot be left to its own devices, but must be controlled and educated in order to become good. In this second view, nurture is superior to nature. This belief is expressed in Prospero’s opinion of Caliban ‘on whose nature nurture can never stick’. Here, nature is naturally untrustworthy, savage and evil: Caliban is incapable of being educated or trained.
Finally the last theme that is used is Sleep and dreams. Sleep and dreams recur often in the pay. Prospero sends his daughter Miranda to sleep, Ariel causes Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep, as a result provoking brutal thoughts in Antonio and Sebastian. The sailors are asleep throughout the entire play. Caliban has such wonderful dreams he always wishes to be asleep. Gonzalo has a vision of his ‘commonwealth’ in his dream, and what the perfect Utopian society would look like.
The reason why Shakespeare used many different themes was that it made the play more interesting and grabbed attention from the audience.
In this play the main characters are introduced in the first scene, one of the main ways that this is done is through-using magic.
To sustain interest throughout the play there must be a strong beginning with a good opening scene so the audience will respond more to the play. So Shakespeare used a good dramatic opening scene, when Prospero cursed a storm. Shakespeare used very good dramatic techniques in the opening scene.
There are many characters in this play and most of them are introduced through the first scene. Prospero is the main character of this play, Prospero used to be the legitimate Duke of Milan. Unfortunately his treacherous brother Antonio stole his title and banished Prospero to a Mediterranean island with his daughter Miranda. A great lover of the arts and in particular books, Prospero has harnessed the powers of magic whilst in exile. Miranda is Prospero's daughter. Attractive and young fifteen years old, Miranda has lived with her father in exile for twelve years. Aside from her father, she has seen few men in her life, and quickly enchants the shipwrecked Ferdinand. Ariel is an airy spirit in this play; Ariel serves his master Prospero well in his many tasks of magic on Prospero's island. Once enslaved by a witch, Ariel wants his freedom now from Prospero. At the conclusion of this play Ariel is made free. Caliban is a giant beast; Shakespeare describes Caliban as ‘a savage and deformed slave’. Hating his master Prospero, Caliban works for him out of fear of Prospero’s magic. Iris, Ceres, Juno, Nymphs and Reapers these are spirits that appear by Prospero’s will.
These are the characters that arrive at Prospero's Island by shipwreck: Alonso he is the King of Naples. When Prospero’s brother Antonio, took Prospero’s dukedom, it was Alonso who recognized Prospero’s brother, sealing Prospero’s fate of living in exile. Ferdinand is the much-loved son of the King of Naples. Shipwrecked, but alive, Ferdinand falls instantly in live with Miranda, when he first sees her on Prospero’s island. Sebastian is the brother of Alonso. He plots to kill his king and take his title with the scheming Antonio. Antonio is the brother of Prospero; he took Prospero’s title from him when Prospero trusted him to manage his affairs. Having replaced his brother, he now encourages Sebastian to do the same to his brother. Gonzalo is an honest old counsellor. When Prospero was to have starved to death when exiled by boat, it was Gonzalo who provided food, clothing and books to comfort Prospero and the three year old Miranda. Stephano is a drunken butler, he attempts to kill Prospero and take the island for his own. Trinculo and Caliban whom he fools into believing he is a God help him. Trinculo is a jester, who tries to kill Prospero, and finally there is the Master of a ship, Boatswains, and Mariners. The Sailors who fought Prospero’s storm are ultimately shipwrecked on his island.
Shakespeare’s famous theatre,, was the scene for many of his greatest triumphs. His works, performed with no interruptions to an audience that included all of the classes, competed with the other theatres and with the other entertainment of the day: bear-baiting. After the Globe burned down, Shakespeare moved to Blackfriar's Theatre, an indoor theatre which also enhanced his transition to the quieter plays of the Romances. Built of wood, these theatres comprised three tiers of seats in a circular shape, with a stage area on one side of the circle. The audience's seats and part of the stage were roofed, but much of the main stage and the area in front of the stage in the centre of the circle were open to the elements. The stage itself was divided into three levels: a main stage area with doors at the rear and a curtained area in the back for ‘discovery scenes’; an upper, canopied area called heaven for balcony scenes; and an area under the stage called hell, accessed by a trap door in the stage. There were dressing rooms located behind the stage, but no curtain in the front of the stage, which meant that scenes had to flow into each other and ‘dead bodies’, had to be dragged off. Performances took place during the day, using natural light from the open centre of the theatre. Since there could be no dramatic lighting and there was very little scenery or props, audiences relied on the actors’ lines and stage directions to supply the time of day and year, the weather, location, and mood of the scenes. His viewers came from all classes, and his plays appealed to all kinds of sensibilities, from kings and queens to clowns and servants. While Shakespeare’s plays appealed to all levels of society and included familiar story lines and themes.
The language Shakespeare uses in the play contributes to the shortness of the play. It is compressed and dense, often in irregular rhythm or word order, and with different verb tenses used in the same sentence. Occasionally, words are lost, increasing the sense of urgency or anger. The play abounds in language which evokes the rich variety of the natural world: sea, air, earth and wildlife. Almost every page contains some feature of nature.
‘The Tempest’ contains more music than any other play. It has nine songs (pages 33, 61, 67, 75, 93, 111 and 131).
Shakespeare uses repetition in the language of the play. Sometimes words or phrases are repeated for example ‘we split, we split’ and ‘twelve years since, Miranda, twelve years since’. Often echoes are in the sounds, this is known as alliteration. Prospero’s language in Act I Scene 2 is full of repetition of words, but are also repetitions of letters: the‘s’ in ‘saw’st sink. Sit’, and the ‘n’ sound in ‘now know’. This repetition effect has a hypnotic, rhythmical effect, which is both pleasing to the ear and seductively persuasive.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that a character on stage does not. It can arise from the language, for instance when Miranda exclaims ‘How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world’ at the sight of a group which includes Antonio and Sebastian. Or it can arise from the contrasts in a scene, such as the harmony of the masque being followed by the sight of three bedraggled drunkards.
Shakespeare was writing for the stage, not for readers. His plays are full of lengthy speeches that offer setting details and stage directions. One outstanding aspect of Shakespeare’s work is his use of imagery. Imagery is simply creating a picture through words. Shakespeare uses three distinct in his plays: blank verse, rhyme, and prose. Each level of language is applied for a reason. The majority of each play was written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter. Iambic means two syllables, first a soft syllable and then a hard syllable. Pentameter means five feet to a line. So each blank verse line has ten syllables in the soft-hard pattern. Although this format varies here and there with an extra foot or a short foot, most of the lines will parse. Since Shakespeare could not dim the lights or draw a curtain, rhyme was employed to close scenes. These are called ‘capping couplets’. Rhyme is also used to indicate a sudden attack of love. Lastly, prose appears in the plays. Prose may indicate that a person of lower status is speaking or that someone of higher status is speaking in a rude or impolite way.
Shakespeare’s language differs from modern language. Obsolete words were used, but these are no longer used in English. Some examples are wrack for wreck, fain for gladly, and wherefore used as why. Also words that have changed meaning for example art meant skill and brave meant splendid. The English used to have a familiar form of the subject ‘you’. The words thee/thou/thine/thy, etc. are familiar, and indicate relationship or social class. The ‘thou’ form is used with close friends or family members, with pets, with servants, and with those lower in social class than the speaker. Shakespeare often uses this form expressively: simply calling an enemy ‘thou’ indicates disrespect. To conjugate the familiar ‘thou’, a different verb ending is added generally t, st, or est (as in thou shalt, canst, dost, hast, or art).
In conclusion in my opinion I think that ‘The Tempest’ does catch attention to people in the audience as the opening scene was dramatic and tense. Even though there were no special effects the whole scene and the way the play was written and all the themes that were used didn’t need any big loud effects, as the story was interesting.